North Pole in ‘Peril’
The global warming alarmists are out again. The polar ice caps aren’t leaving us forever, but ABC and The New York Times seized a new study this week about seasonal change to proclaim the end of the North Pole and the polar bears’ habitat.
ABC’s Bill Blakemore reported for three straight days on a NASA study of Arctic ice patterns that found less ice at the end of the 2005 summer than in years past. On the September 29 “World News Tonight,” Blakemore spoke of creatures living in the icy water – creatures anchor Bob Woodruff described as “in enormous peril.” Woodruff introduced the segment as part of ABC’s reporting on “the serious concern among scientists that the polar ice caps have been melting,” and Blakemore said of the Arctic sea ice: “before the end of the century, it could all be gone.”
But the truth is, scientists on both sides of the global warming debate agree that the ice cap isn’t in “peril.” As Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute said, the Arctic is experiencing “natural cycles of warming and cooling.”
Yet, on the September 27 “World News Tonight,” ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas introduced him with “a staggering headline tonight about the planet getting warmer.” “Researchers say the summertime ice cap, which covers the North Pole, could be gone in 100 years,” Vargas said. Blakemore then declared that “the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean is melting away,” warning that “villages are tumbling into the sea.”
“Good Morning America” continued the hype on September 28. Diane Sawyer said NASA’s study provided “startling and alarming images” – “brand-new satellite photos showing the ice pack around the North Pole melting and shrinking. Stark proof that the world is getting warmer.” Blakemore appeared again, lamenting: “These vast fields of ice of the frozen Arctic Ocean are so immense, so beautiful, with such a huge silence, it’s hard to imagine them ever disappearing. And yet, that is exactly what some scientific scenarios say could well happen before the end of the century.”
Blakemore did admit that he was talking about “summer sea ice,” but that was halfway through his report, and the overall tone was alarmist. He ended by linking hurricanes, summer heat waves and global warming. Sawyer asked him, “Is this the final proof about global warming?” Blakemore replied, “It’s the latest, it’s the latest very strong proof. The scientists are quite worried about it.”
Not all scientists are as worried as Blakemore was. In fact, scientists on different sides of the global warming debate even agreed that reporting on the study has been overblown. The missing point, they said, is that NASA’s study, in conjunction with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), provides information about the seasonal melting that occurs in summertime – which doesn’t mean the ice caps will be gone during the rest of the year.
“The Arctic Ocean was ice-free at the end of the summer for 40 percent of the last 7,000 years. What’s the big deal?” said Pat Michaels, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a research professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.
Michaels said he didn’t see how “the conditions that dominated three millennia can be construed as some type of disaster.” “If the issue is that human beings are capable of changing the climate – they’ve been doing that for thousands of years,” he said. “So what’s new?”
Mark Serreze, a senior research scientist with the NSIDC at the University of Colorado-Boulder, said he and Michaels would disagree on many points on climate change, but they agree that the media have been missing the point of the Arctic story.
“The media are trying to simplify this or don’t understand what we’re talking about,” said Serreze, who was quoted in The New York Times’ September 29 article about the study. He said the media, in his experience, are “not necessarily trying to find your story – they’re trying to get their story.”
The Times story, by Andrew C. Revkin, skipped straight to global warming in the second paragraph, stating that the shift in summer ice “is hard to explain without attributing it in part to human-caused global warming, the team’s members and other experts on the region said.”
Revkin wrote, “One of the most important consequences of Arctic warming will be increased flows of meltwater and icebergs from glaciers and ice sheets, and thus an accelerated rise in sea levels, threatening coastal areas. The loss of sea ice could also hurt both polar bears and Eskimo seal hunters.”
But Serreze told the Free Market Project that there is an important distinction the media often don’t clarify – the difference between ice in the ocean and ice on the land. Melting sea ice “has essentially zero effect on sea level,” he said, another point on which he and Michaels agreed. Both scientists gave the example of a glass of ice water: if ice cubes in the glass melt, the water level in the glass remains the same.
It’s ice melting from land into the sea that causes ocean levels to rise – but even so, Serreze said that “right now, the sea level rise that we observe is quite modest.” He said the rate could increase in the future, though that is debatable depending on forecasts.
In the meantime, the media continue to trot out natives of the Arctic region, whether human or animal, in support of a global warming disaster theme.